Monthly Archives: September 2010

Damon Linker, Kennedy, Public Office and Rabbinical Vision

In the Washington Post, Damon Linker (author of “Theocons”), proposes a “religious test” for all political candidates:Instead of attempting the impossible task of abolishing faith from the political conversation, we need a new kind of religious test for our leaders. “Religious convictions do not always harmonize with the practice of democratic government, and allowing voters to explore the dissonance is legitimate.”

This “test’s” questions would include the following:
How might the doctrines and practices of your religion conflict with the fulfillment of your official duties?
How would you respond if your church issued an edict that clashed with the duties of your office?

Linker identifies, as an example of such an “edict”, the teaching of many Catholic bishops that Catholic leaders should work to outlaw abortion, “even though the Supreme Court has declared it a constitutionally protected right, and even if the candidate’s constituents are overwhelmingly pro-choice.”

Fifty years ago last week, Senator John F. Kennedy’s addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to explain why he can be Catholic and still be president. How can he be trusted not to follow the Pope as a Catholic? If Bishops claim to decide an issue-how can he serve the best interests of the country?  Kennedy followed the thought of John Courtney Murray that eventually led to Gaudium et Spes, a broader vision of the Catholic Church in the world.

Here we are fifty years later and we have no equivalent halakhic version. If Poskim or Roshei yeshiva claim extra terrestrial & extra officio authority to  decide issues then: can there be a Halakhic politician? If every matter claimed to be effecting society is “pikuah nefesh” requiring a pesak, then can an Orthodox politician override it? Kennedy offered to step down if there was a conflict of conscious and public good. Could an orthodox Jew rise in politics without having to switch to “traditional” or “observant”?

Here is a post from Mirror of Justice blog emphasizing another aspect. Is there a traditional/halakhic/orthodox mandate to solve questions of global economics and politics? Chief Rabbi Sacks creates such a mandate but would it stand up as fodder for speeches for an observant candidate? In the 1980’s we were still justifying an ethic in/out of halakhah, but what of the international issues that were already there 50 years ago. What was the Orthodox Congressman Herbert Tenzer thinking in the 1960’s. (Does anyone know if  he ever gave such a speech- his archives and oral history interviews are in YU but undetailed). Can a Jewish politician speak of  “social welfare and human rights, of disarmament and international order and peace” and be more specific than “tikkun olam” or the “dignity of Adam I”.

While recognizing that the religious issue was an important matter before the voters (Can a Catholic be a loyal American office holder? Well, the fact that he had been a holder of elective office for some time would suggest an affirmative answer to this question.)… Still, as a politician seeking office, he made a gamble which was this: telling not only the Protestant ministers gathered at the site where he was delivering his address but also the American people that he believed “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” I suspect that this statement was intended to placate those who believed without question that no one who claimed to be Catholic could also be a loyal citizen and, therefore, a competent and effective President.

So, perhaps with Saint Thomas More in mind, he concluded this address by pointing out that “if the time should ever come—and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible—when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same. But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith—nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.”

Now we must fast forward a bit to a little over four months later….as the President of the United States duly elected by his fellow citizens… Many recall his famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” But other words spoken by the new President demand our attention today.

Before his audience—wherever they were—heard this famous exhortation about service, President Kennedy declared in the first substantive paragraph of the address these words of significance: “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forbears fought are still at issue around the globe-the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

Post-Orthodoxy Chatter

I received some company on Sukkot afternoon, one of whom was an unexpected guest whom I don’t speak to often. He wanted to talk about post-orthodoxy – chatter, brouhaha , dialogue, and editorializing about it. He wanted me to publish it as 1000 words somewhere, there was talk of where to pitch it, and eventually more guests came over. In the course of the discussion some of the following came out.
(For those new to the blog and need a definition of post-orthodoxy, see here and here and here.)

The guest was in his early 30’s and part of the of non-Manhattan halakhic egalitarian minyan. He wanted to conceive of the change to post-orthodoxy as ideological and creating new institutions. I was more cautious and reiterated that I saw the change as a moment in time in which some people raised Modern Orthodox have moved on. Some have given up religion and want to be left alone from all of it, some are sowing wild oats, some have become renewal or liberal, others egalitarian halakhic, some are just feeling boxed in, and yet others returning more to a 1950’s Orthodoxy. Much of this is non-ideological, having more to do with carving out a space different than their parents. Much of it is due to new careers, attending Ivy’s, attending state colleges, new places of residence, staying single longer, texting or bicycling on Shabbat, and discovering the wider world.

My holiday guest was not satisfied with this. “But then these people are just sowing wild oats and eventually will return to Orthodox institutions” and they will just become “my parents modern Orthodoxy again.” He keep coming back to the point that for him it was an ideological struggle against the repressive world of the late 1990’s Orthodoxy. He emphasized how the leadership of these new minyanim is yeshiva trained and for him that was not a coincidence. Eventually we came around to the point that I use the tern post-orthodox for the gen y-millennials and not for Baby Boomer liberalism.

My guest, however, as the very last of the gen x’ers is living a cusp life. He has the religious habits of the millenials but an animus against what he perceives as the closed-mindedness of the modern Orthodox Gen X’ers. As a cusp person, he sees both groups but has an active ideological stance against his immediate path of gen x’ers which was not chosen. He needed to have clear lines of demarcation from and against the perceived turn to the right. The defining line is that they dont need a posek or to enter into Rabbinic authority. They can consult with Rabbis and make their own educated decisions as educated lay people.

We then discussed various signs of change, for example weddings in the 1990’s did not have mixed dancing for the second set, now it is becoming common. (Personally, I have attended weddings of several kids in the same family in which older siblings had a mechitza on the dance floor and then attended their younger siblings weddings in which there was mixed dancing). Another guest pointed out that the kids are now picking a place for their year in Israel knowing that they wont change their lifestyle. We discussed how many parents here in the neighborhood have made peace with the fact that their day school educated kids are currently not Shomer Shabbat. And that we have no clear demographics but if we look at HS class lists we can get a sense of the numbers.

We then mentioned how a local baby boomer synagogue that had 1000 people for Rosh Hashanah had no baby carriages, strollers, or attendance at the groups. Was it just age stratification between synagogues or a sign of something more?

This lead to a discussion of: where to get hard data? There will be no 2010 National Jewish Population Survey. If one is done in 2020, then will likely show the multitude of Orthodox kids of the Gen X’ers and the decline from the demographics of the Gen Y kids wont be shown until 2030. (Think of it in the same way as the decline of the Northeast Conservative congregations was only shown in 2000, even though one sensed it already in 1980.)

We then drifted into a discussion of new institutions. But it came out that the RIETS class of 2006, as counted by one of its members, had a full one third of its graduates as liberal as YCT. (I cannot vouch for that.) It had some graduates who were basically Haredi and a majority that were right wing, but 50 out of 150 were liberal. (I am not sure what the criteria was.) We then mentioned how many young rabbis are preaching evangelical, new age, and pop culture.

Other guests came and went over Yom Tov. Rumor has it that YU is going to be aggressively recruiting students from JSU, the public HS branch of NCSY. They will attend the mechinah, the successor to JSS. If so, then they will create unintended consequences. These kids will have had public school lives of football, drill team, music camp, working as waiters in non-kosher restaurants, flipping burgers in McDonalds, having non-Jewish best friends growing up and having a real HS curriculum. When JSS existed in the 1960’s and 1970’s as a place for Hebrew school graduates, the attitudes of the students were generally to the left of the Yeshiva Program student. There are surveys in the student paper, regularly done, showing attitudes inverse of the rest of campus. They used their talents to provide much of the extra-curricular activities and many eventually became the side-burned cologne wearing rabbis of the 1970’s who sported plaid jackets. (Yes, they also produced many on the right wing side, but in the majority they did not. So I don’t need wingnuts showing up to argue against the old surveys.) This will be an unintended social change back to what used to be. (Many of these graduates showed great commitment to Orthodoxy when they found out they could not become actors, musicians, or chefs, but the very desire to enter these profession reflects a different community).

Finally, Katy Perry was on TV this weekend. I only knew who her name from the discussions on the religion beat. Here she is, someone raised by Evangelical parents who did not let her have non-religious pop-music or dress in an immodest manner. She was a Christian singer in her late teens providing the enthusiasm for other teens to be religious. Now, she is entirely beyond or post her evangelical upbringing. But let us look at a few points. More or better enthusiasm at Jesus camp would have not keep her right wing. In fact, she was the enthusiasm and ruah. Better advisers would have not kept her religious. As part of a generation rejecting the religion of the 1990’s, she is not arguing for greater roles for women, she is into seductive presentation and immodest performance. She remains against blasphemy or speaking against religion. And she is not into liberal theology that speaks of the need for changes due to modernity, she continues to directly read the Bible but now finds that Paul speaks new age universalism.

If we only had some demographics about the Jewish community.

Correspondence between Leni Yahil and Hannah Arendt

The letters between the Holocaust historian Leni Yahil and Hannah Arendt were just translated into English. They reveal yet another friend that Arendt lost in her coverage of the Eichmann trial. There are a numbers of gems in the letters- here is one.

Arendt saw the State of Israel and Golda Meir as having what Heine called an idolatrous version of monotheism in which the state represents God, rather than recognizing that every person is in the image of God. (Chief Rabbi Sacks quotes this line of Heine in several places.)

What terrifies me is simply that this people, which when all is said and done has after all believed for several thousand years in the God of justice, is starting now to cling to what in its religion Heine rightly called the unhealthy faith of ancient Egypt, because it helps them “believe in the Jewish People,² in other words, in itself. And this, if I may say so, is real idol worship. However pleasant the idol worshipers may be, as your friend[Golda Meir] is and was.

Yahil responds to the charge, yet still acknowledges the problems of justice in the new state.

1) It is the nature of idol worship – if I am not mistaken in my view – for man to project externally certain spiritual-mental realities [gegebene geistig-seelische Realitäten] which exist in him and in doing so make them absolute, in order in this way, as you also say, to achieve the desired self-affirmation. In this fashion the idol worshipper increases his self-confidence to the extent that he feels necessary in order to ensure that his actions will succeed (the “blessing of the gods”). It is precisely this undertaking that is taken ad absurdum in the famous scene between Elijah and the priests of Baal (I Kings 18). Just as the next chapter portrays the real relationship between the one that you call the “God of Justice” and man.

2) The danger of such idol worship exists on every level of human ideas. In our modern world, it is no less present in any “belief in the Jewish People” than, say, the postulate of abstract, intellectual or material values. This in no way detracts from the reality-based content and legitimacy of each of them, as long as they are not “idolized.” In other words, the decisive thing is not the “what,” but the “how” (see also the example of Elijah: the two bullocks which are sacrificed are exactly the same; in one case we have idolatry [Götzendienst], in the other case divine worship [Gottesdienst]).

3) If there is a single person (among those whom I know in this category) who does not cross this boundary, it is this very woman [Golda Meir] to whom you referred as my friend, a term I would not presume to use. In my opinion it is precisely this fact – the ability not to exceed the area of the powers laid down for an individual in his actions and thoughts – that explains this woman’s special and unvarying effect on people, irrespective of their skin color, culture or intellectuality… The attitude that she defended that evening when she was with us is a direct upshot of her desire not to coin new rules arbitrarily.

4) The problem, that the role that has been played by the “God of Justice” (or the merciful [God]) in the Western world has been shattered, is not a specifically Jewish problem, although – due to the special religious and historical circumstances – it does admittedly have a specifically Jewish expression. Everywhere the strange question is asked, about man no longer being created in God’s image, but God in the image of man. I don’t really think that I need to explain to you that in this situation, there is little that we can do other than to delve into man’s situation – The Human Condition[6] – as faithfully and dispassionately as possible, without anyone today probably being able to give a satisfactory intellectual, let alone a religious answer. I cannot think of a single example where in any other religion consequently part of its rules or institutions were given up – without anybody taking this amissŠ I admit, that with us [the Jews], things are more complicated. But the fact that for thousands of years religion was a substitute for a State and as such created institutions which are now coming into conflict with the modern institutions of restored State-level life – this fact alone does not yet entitle us to introduce new rules by force. One cannot leap over one’s past, or alternatively doing so is normally punished very harshly. In addition, it seems to me that Heine of all people is a questionable authority in this area. (Don’t misunderstand me: I agree with you that there are things in this area that make one’s hair stand on end, and we have recently had several examples of this. But force won’t work. As has been said – there is also idol worship of principle.)

Post-modern religion- the syllabi of John Caputo

One of the leading Catholic post-modern theologians John Caputo will be retiring this June. For those interested in what is considered post-modern in a religious context, his works are the place to go. (This is especially important because (be-avonosanu harabim) there are many who think any book written after 1980 is post-modern or that the ideas of Durkhiem and Dewey are post-modern). He is not my cup of tea but nevertheless a major force out there.

Below are the syllabii of his courses as posted to his web site along with a link to mp3 recordings of his course this semester.  One can gain a solid grasp of the current field by perusing his reading lists and then reading Caputo’s books.  American Jewry has yet to respond to any of this- outside of a few unknown academics.

John D. Caputo is influenced by Heidegger and “treats “sacred” texts as a poetics of the human condition, or as a “theo-poetics,” a poetics of the event harbored in the name of God. His past books have attempted to persuade us that hermeneutics goes all the way down (Radical Hermeneutics), that Derrida is a thinker to be reckoned with by theology (The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida), and that theology is best served by getting over its love affair with power and authority and embracing what Caputo calls, following St. Paul, The Weakness of God…. He is currently working in a book on our frail and mortal flesh, probably to be entitled The Fate of All Flesh: A Theology of the Event, II.”

Professor Caputo… has special interests in the “religion without religion” of Jacques Derrida; the “theological turn” taken in recent French phenomenology (Jean-Luc Marion and others); the critique of onto-theology; the question of post-modernism as “post-secularism;” the dialogue of contemporary philosophy with St. Augustine; the recent interest shown by philosophers in St. Paul; the link between Kierkegaard and deconstruction; Heidegger’s early theological writings on Paul and Augustine; “secular” and “death of God” theology (Altizer, Vattimo, Zizek); medieval metaphysics and mysticism.

FALL 2010 Courses:
REL 660: The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion
PHI 600: Derrida

FALL 2009 Courses:
REL 667: Radical Theology from Hegel to Zizek
PHI 600: Husserl and Merleau-Ponty

FALL 2008 Courses:
REL 660: A Theology of Flesh
PHI 600: Heidegger

FALL 2007 Courses:
REL 667: Postmodern Theology: Derrida and Religion
PHI 600: Transcendence and Immanence: Levinas and Deleuze

FALL 2006 Courses:
REL 660: The Theological Turn in French Phenomenology
PHI 600: Husserl and the Foundations of Phenomenology

FALL 2005 Courses:
REL 667: Radical Theology from Tillich to Zizek
PHI 600: Postmodernisms: A Philosophical Introduction

FALL 2004 Courses:
REL 667: Postmodern Theology: The Concept of God in Levinas
PHI 600: Heidegger

Course Audio Recordings: These lectures are also available as MP3 files at “Homebrewed Christianity” website:

This year, he seems very interested in Catherine Malabou and the idea of “plasticity.” Nice reviews of her work and how she explains the Hegelian approach to religion- here and here.

The reading list for the “A Theology of Flesh” is especially detailed. As is the reading list for “The Theological Turn in French Phenomenology” which is more my speed.

A full audio list for many courses is here.

h/t AUFS

Oona Eisenstadt on Boyarin’s Socrates and the Fat Rabbis

Several months ago, I reviewed Boyarin’s new book Socrates and the Fat Rabbis on the blog part I here and part II here. Here is a new review by Oona Eisenstadt written for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review that compliments mine.

According to Boyarin, only Plato and the Babylonian Talmud have carnivalesqe and still expect the serious, rational side to prevail. The question for everyone is what to do with the Aggadah that seemingly undercuts the halakhah. Boyarin’s answer is that the rabbis bolstered their own authority “(as Plato did for philosophy) by incorporating and domesticating positions that might provide viable dissent.” Oona hints that the answer may lie elsewhere in the religious virtues of shame and other non-rational qualities that the Talmud wants to convey. (See my posts on the 7th-9th centuries for other options. There may be more mussar and moral teachings than we have been seeing in a halakhic age.) She also notes that Boyarin’s satire seems too close to contemporary liberal relativism. Finally, if one is reading Boyarin more as a contemporary thinker and less as a Talmudist, then in Oona’s opinion he comes up short compared to Levinas’ Talmudic readings.

The broadest purpose of this book is to argue that Plato’s dialogues and the Babylonian Talmud are examples of Menippean satire, or spoudogeloion, a genre in which high and low elements are mixed in such a way that the practices of intellectuals “are both mocked and asserted at one and the same time” (26). Almost every society, Boyarin tells us, produces such satire, but Plato and the Talmud are particularly comparable because they share a Hellenistic viewpoint (133) and because they apply the satire similarly.

Ever since Walter Benjamin argued that the aggadic passages in the text subvert the seriousness of its halachah, it has been common to argue for the Talmud as a double-accented text. Boyarin does not, however, locate the divide between the two accents where Benjamin does, suggesting instead that the vast bulk of the Talmud is spoudaios, with the geloios best found in stories about the bodies of the rabbis, most notably about their gluttony and lust, and the sizes of their bellies and phalloi; these stories, we are told, are comparable to the hiccupping scene in the Symposium.

Boyarin is most convincing when explaining how the apparent Talmudic polyvocality, far from conveying a true openness or dialogical quality, is the mode of a univocal discourse whereby the rabbis shore up their own authority and that of the Torah (as Plato did for philosophy) by incorporating and domesticating positions that might provide viable dissent.. What distinguishes them “from most of the rest of the Menippean tradition is the total absence of a desire to obliterate the seriousness of the serious part of the discourse. The rug is not really pulled out from under the reader, but the ground is nevertheless made to shake” (340).

My critical reflections begin… with doubt about how well Boyarin maintains for himself the tension between the two accents… The main thrust of the book asks us to read back from the passages presenting Socrates as authoritarian (and from any buffoonery, connected to any character) to the idea that one might have doubts about the nobility of the philosophical life, and thence to re-value rhetoricians. In this movement, the second accent loses its humor and takes on its own seriousness and decorum; it becomes a new authoritative voice, that of a liberal relativist.

In any application of double-reading, moreover, the way one defines the satirizing thrust has everything to do with the way one reads the ostensible thrust: the joke has to come at the expense of the straight man. Boyarin locates the critical accent in the bawdy because, in his understanding, the first accent in both Plato and the rabbis is that of the absolute rationalist (30).
The argument falls apart if we think of the philosophical method as something less strictly rational, something that might even rest on our ability to be ashamed of ourselves, and shamed by others.

“By insisting that all sides in the debate are correct [the Talmud] completely vitiates the power of genuine debate and dissent” (147); the Talmud eschews a genuine pluralism based on the idea that no one is ever completely right, in favor of an authoritarian insistence that no one is ever completely wrong, “as long as he… is in the right institution” (152). But while Boyarin is probably correct that the rabbis were primarily interested in creating a coherent truth, in bolstering their authority, and in explaining away differences, one can lament the fact that the readings here are so much poorer philosophically than those of, say, Emmanuel Levinas, whom Boyarin has taken on elsewhere. Boyarin’s Talmud operates in a less original mode, one easily recognizable as ideological discourse, in which there is play between authority and demotic mockery, but marvelous layers of polyvocality are denied us. It may be truer, but it is substantially less interesting.
Full Review Here

h/t Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks- Introductory Speaker for Pope Benedict.

Last Friday, the eve of Yom Kippur, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave the introductory speech before Pope Benedict addressed and interfaith gathering in the chapel at St Marys University College in Twickenham.

Rabbi Sacks seems to have invested a great deal of time and import to the visit. He first prepared his own Jewish community in a message conveying the importance of the event, he then issued a message to the British newspapers, and finally he gave a third message before the religious leaders assembled in the chapel waiting to hear Pope Benedict’s message. In total three messages about the Pope’s visit before Yom Kippur.

Atonement and Forgiveness was his message for the Jewish community. In this talk, he starts with the persecutions of Judaism by Christianity, but he segues into the Jewish need to recognize the Christian change in attitude and their sincere reconciliation. Catholic and Jews are now friends. The chief rabbis applies the message of Yom Kippur of atonement and forgiveness to the Catholic Church and seeks a healing of the relationship of the two faiths.

Selections from “Atonement and Forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships”
The story might have continued were it not for the darkest night of all, the Holocaust. In the wake of that event, a very great Pope indeed, Pope John XXIII, who had helped save many lives in the war years, began to reflect on the history of Christian attitudes toward the Jews, and came to the conclusion that those attitudes must change.

In 1962 he convened the Second Vatican Council, setting in motion what became three years later, though he did not live to see it, the declaration Nostra Aetate, “In Our Age.” It redefined the relationship between the Catholic Church and other faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. It was one of the greatest acts of reconciliation in religious history, and today Catholics and Jews meet not as enemies or strangers but as friends.

And by one of those coincidences that seem providential, the night of that meeting, this Friday, will be the beginning of the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, our festival of forgiveness. How moving it will be, this year, to bear witness to how those two ancient ideas, atonement and forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships and heal the wounds of time.

Rabbi Sack spoke in the chapel as the representative of all non-Catholic faiths. He praises the Vatican for its important Nosta Aetate and its instrumental role in creating an ecumenical environment. Sacks considers the secularization of the Seventeenth Century as due to the inability of religions to live peacefully together. It is interesting to note that Sacks does not quote Torah, rather John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Pope Benedict’s own Caritas in Veritate. In seeming appreciation nd agreement with the Pope, he quotes: “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”

Sacks gives his own theology when he states: “We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. “ We all have commonalities in faith and we have difference neither side should be ignored. There is one monotheistic God, but we should give dignity to our differences as enriching the world.

Some of the commonalities of Judaism with Christianity and other religions is that: “We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.” He continues, “In our communities we value people…for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. His further expansion of the ideas of faith itself as important and that we can relate to one another at a universal level of the God in the soul, which encourages engaging the other. “we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.”

Sack as a firm believer in having an Establishment Church assumes that “one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.”

Finally, Sacks concludes with the need to show honor to the Pope who has lead all of us “with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all
our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.”

The entire Opening address at Interfaith gathering for Papal Visit

We welcome you, leader of a great faith, to this gathering of many faiths, in a land where once battles were fought in the name of faith,
and where now we share friendship across faiths.

That is a climate change worth celebrating. And we recognize the immense role the Vatican played and continues to play in bringing it about. It was Nostra Aetate, 45 years ago, that brought about the single greatest transformation in interfaith relations in recent history, and we recognize your visit here today as a new chapter in that story, and a vital one.

The secularization of Europe that began in the seventeenth century did not happen because people lost faith in God. Newton and Descartes, heroes of the Enlightenment, believed in God very much indeed. What led to secularization was that people lost faith in the ability of people of faith to live peaceably together. And we must never go down that road again. We remember the fine words of John Henry Cardinal Newman, “We should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend,” as well as your own words, in Caritas in Veritate, that “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”

We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. You have spoken of the Catholic Church as a creative minority. And perhaps that is what we should all aspire to be, creative minorities, inspiring one another, and bringing our different gifts to the common good.

Britain has been so enriched by its minorities, by every group represented here today and the intricate harmonies of our several voices. And one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.

In the face of a deeply individualistic culture, we offer community. Against consumerism, we talk about the things that have value but not a price. Against cynicism we dare to admire and respect. In the face of fragmenting families, we believe in consecrating relationships. We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.

In our communities we value people not for what they earn or what they buy or how they vote but for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the
Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. Each of us in our own way is a guardian of values that are in danger of being lost, in our short-attention-span, hyperactive, information-saturated, wisdom-starved age. And though our faiths are profoundly different, yet we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.

You have honoured us with your presence, and we honour you. May you continue to lead with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.

The third piece that Sacks wrote was an op-ed message to the Pope about how the loss of faith in Europe has led to its loss of vitality and decent into a decadence without family, with poverty, suicide, and depression. Sack’s answer is to return to the 19th century values of Newman. A subtext is that the Pope can accomplish more as an intellectual and public religious figure, kinda like Sacks himself, than as the monarch over the Church.

selections from General message to the Pope

Times Op Ed – The Pope will find more glory without power

The current Pope is more than the leader of the largest religious community in the world. He is also a significant public intellectual with a strong sense of history

.According to Save the Children, 3.9 million children are today living in poverty, 1.7 million of them in severe, persistent poverty. 4000 children call Childline every day. 100,000 children run away from home every year. 20 per cent of deaths among young people aged from 15 to 24 are suicides. In 2009, 29.4 million antidepressants were dispensed, up 334 per cent from 1985. During the same period, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in distress. An estimated one million elderly people do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

These are the kinds of social problem that cannot be solved by government spending. They are the result of the breakdown of families and communities and the loss of trust and social capital. In the broadest sense, they have to do with culture and the lack of a shared moral code. Having lost much of its Christian heritage, Britain does not seem to have found a satisfying substitute.

Yet in the nineteenth century it became re-moralized in a process in which John Henry Newman, the man Pope Benedict XVI has come to beatify, played a significant part. It was a joint effort of churches, temperance movements, Sunday schools, charities and friendly societies. It was, admittedly, an imperialistic age, but it also saw the abolition of slavery, the birth of universal education, and campaigns against inhuman working conditions and cruel punishments. It showed that national decline is not inevitable. A culture can be renewed Britain

The Pope himself was equally enamored with Rabbi Sacks who was specially invited to give the address. He wished Jews “a happy and holy celebration of Yom Kippur.” And resonated with Sacks’ universalism. “I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated.”

Pope Benedict paraphrased one of Rabbi Sacks ideas in his own speech. Sacks talks about working side by side in making the world better as well as face to face in dialogue. “As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this “side by side” dimension of our cooperation, which complements the “face to face” aspect of our continuing dialogue.” Then Pope Benedict translated the two aspects into the Church’s official PCID four aspects.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions. In order to be fruitful, this requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions…Once such a respect and openness has been established, peoples of all religions will work together effectively for peace and mutual understanding, and so give a convincing witness before the world.

This kind of dialogue needs to take place on a number of different levels, and should not be limited to formal discussions The dialogue of life [a form of “side by side” dialogue] involves simply living alongside one another and learning from one another in such a way as to grow in mutual knowledge and respect. The dialogue of action [another form of “side by side” dialogue] brings us together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation. Such a dialogue may include exploring together how to defend human life at every stage and how to ensure the non-exclusion of the religious dimension of individuals and communities in the life of society. Then at the level of formal conversations [“face to face” dialogue], there is a need not only for theological exchange, but also sharing our spiritual riches [formally known as a “dialogue of religious experience” ], speaking of our experience of prayer and contemplation, and expressing to one another the joy of our encounter with divine love.

My dear friends, as I conclude my remarks, let me assure you that the Catholic Church follows the path of engagement and dialogue out of a genuine sense of respect for you and your beliefs

Yair Sheleg- The Jewish Renaissance in Israeli Society: The Emergence of a New Jew

Yair Sheleg a decade ago wrote a great book The New Religious Zionists[Hebrew]. In that book, besides the actually discussion of the new Religious Zionist trends, he gave us glimpses into the breakdown of ideology in the settlement of Ofrah, the rise of Maaleh film school, Shababnikim wandering around Jerusalem, the Habakuk movement, and how American Yeshivsh are bringing materialism to the Israeli Haredi world.

His new book The Jewish Renaissance in Israeli Society: The Emergence of a New Jew [Hebrew]deals with the rise of new cultural religious trends in Israel. The chapters give us a kaleidoscope of the turns to kabbalah, Rebbe Nachman, Piyyut, and Eastern religion in Israeli society. He documents the rise of secular study of traditional texts and the rise of hiloni prayer communities. His conclusion is that these trends are part of the rise of the new age and spirituality in Israeli culture.

His last chapter, available online here, deals with bigger cultural issues. He sees the original Jewish cultural element in the state of Israel was more negative than positive, stores are closed but the positive content is going to the beach, or people continued to hold Passover sedarim but did not make them their Hiloni own version. Sheleg sees the rise of a new religious culture in Israel as breaking down the divide between Dati (religious Zionists) and Hiloni since now both sides share texts, experiences, and ritual. Both side are now buying the same books and creating the same Jewish events.

Sheleg sees the new Jewish Renaissance as an internal dynamic from the breakdown of the socialist ethos, especially of the youth movements. The heroic stance of Brenner, Katznelson, and the glorification of the early Kibbutz is no longer the model. The ubermench, warrior, Cannanite ideology is over. It is also a change from the reluctance to create new Jewish forms by authors like Bialek. The new individualism leads to a greater acceptance of the demands of religion- religious coercion is no longer the issue.

Sheleg goes out on a limb by thinking that it may lead to greater reconciliation with the Arabs/Muslims since Israeli identity will be more religious than nationalist Zionism.

Sheleg emphasizes that this is a cultural revolution not a religious one. A common culture in the media, society, and lifestyle.

Sheleg as a journalist treats the material in a descriptive manner. But I find it interesting from a historical and theological point of view. There is a shelf of books from Bialek and Agnon to Eliezer Schweid and Shlomo Avneiri discussing how to create an Israeli culture that incorporates Jewish elements. For most of them, the answer is the classics: Bible, Mishnah, Aggadah, liturgy, and the rationalism of Maimonides. And for most of them these texts are to be studied in an anthology to allow a romantic approach removed from the religious context of the study hall. Think of Sefer Ha-Aggadah.

This new approach is about direct experience of religion in a spirituality context. And what is the new canon of classic texts? Zohar, Kabbalah, Rav Nachman, Piyyut, and Eastern religion influenced meditation. Personal ecstasy is in and romantic anthologies are out. The other corpus that is “in” –is the reading of rabbinic texts for the insight it offers us as moderns. The “in” word for the discussion for Rabbinic texts is mashmaut.

Sheleg himself points out that this has little to do with American modern Orthodoxy and I will add that it it has little to do with most groups of American Olim whose religious life remains as expatriates of their American Orthodoxy. Also don’t limit your thinking to J-M, think of Beer Sheva, Arad, Modiin, Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Haifa. Sheleg concludes with the caveats that this trends of the last 20 years may create its own reaction against it (Israeli secular resurgence) and that some of this spirituality may lead some of the followers into Fundamentalist positions.

From the blurb online:

Over the last two decades, a renewal of interest in Judaism has be1come increasingly conspicuous in Israeli society. This trend is evident both within secular groups, who formerly took no interest in Judaism, and within religious groups, who were obviously engaged with Judaism in the past, but whose engagement is notably different today than in previous generations, having become far more cultural and spiritual than halakhic (i.e., related to Jewish law).

Indications of this renewed interest are visible everywhere – in dozens of Jewish study centers and study groups that have sprung up throughout the country; in many newly established prayer communities that serve as substitutes for synagogues identified with various religious streams (this is due to the desire of some secular people to distinguish themselves not only from Orthodoxy but also from liberal religious groups, such as the Conservative and Reform movements); and in the rising number of organizations and individuals seeking secular alternatives to traditional Jewish ceremonies – mainly weddings, but also bar and bat-mitzvah ceremonies and birth and mourning rituals.

Other notable signs include increased media discourse about Judaism in general and the weekly Torah portion in particular; greater attention to traditional liturgical poems (piyyut), especially by secular musicians who are composing and performing age-old Jewish liturgical texts; and the burgeoning artistic interest in Jewish source material and in dialogue with God and Jewish tradition, which is especially noticeable in popular music, but is found in other fields as well.

The book’s first section focuses on the cultural component, and describes its process of expansion. This process begins with broadening the fields of involvement – moving from the study of Judaism, which is strictly intellectual, through the adoption of personal alternatives to Jewish traditions and texts, and finally to traditional prayer services conducted by people who continue to define themselves as secular.

The second part of the book explores the spiritual component, first as part of the universal New Age phenomenon – a kind of individualistic, non-institutionalized spirituality that is based less on the fulfillment of obligations and more on techniques, as a means of connecting to a world that transcends reality. From this standpoint, the Jewish renaissance’s spiritual aspect is in fact a Jewish variation of the New Age. In this context, Israelis forge links with Jewish spirituality in three main ways:
by the study of Kabbalah, the renewed interest in Hasidism, and the influence of Far Eastern religions, with which many Israelis have come into contact in recent years
The book examines the factors that have given rise to the Jewish renaissance, especially in recent decades, postulating that there is a discernible difference between the impetus behind the cultural renaissance and that of the religious renaissance. In other words, the cultural renaissance has been influenced more strongly by the intra-Israeli quest for an orientation anchored in values and identity, inthe wake of the severe damage inflicted upon the society’s previous anchors – Zionism and socialism.

The book’s summation is concentrated in its two concluding chapters. The first chapter targets the obstacles and risks with which the Jewish renaissance must contend. The process is still striving to compete with the powerful attraction of mass consumer culture; thus, in effect, it largely remains the province of a cultural and social elite (particularly in the cultural realm). The economic crisis of 2008-2009 also had a strong impact, posing a serious problem of reduced funding for organizations that are involved in the renaissance process. On the other hand, the renaissance’s spiritual component is facing the very real danger of a slide into fundamentalism. The Jewish renaissance is turning Israeli Judaism into the heritage of both the religious and the secular.

Tomas Halik- Outreach to Atheists

Tomáš Halík has been awarded the prestigious Romano Guardini Prize.In his official Random House biography it says

TOMÁŠ HALÍK worked as a psychotherapist during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia while at the same time was secretly ordained as a Catholic priest and active in the underground church. Since the fall of the regime, he has served as General Secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops and was an advisor to Václav Havel. He has lectured at many universities throughout the world and is currently a professor of philosophy and sociology at Charles University. A longer biography is available here.

A Protestant blog has a good immediate write up of his work– Halik uses Nietzsche to accept the critiques of religion and builds from there without naivete about what can be proved from the natural order. “For all the debate about belief and nonbelief in today’s world—and how everyone becomes pigeonholed by one or the other— Tomáš Halík teaches that God requires us to persevere with our doubts, carry them in our hearts, and allow them to lead us to maturity. For Halík, patience is the main difference between faith and atheism.” The blog also has some thoughtful opinions contextualizing this work, for example he does not like Marylnne Robinson’s work that was discussed here. I have not read Halik yet.

Halík is a Catholic thinker steeped in Nietzsche; he sees modernity’s criticism of Christianity as an indispensable resource, and as the context within which contemporary faith has to be articulated.

As you will have noticed, there is currently a whole industry of books responding to Dawkins and the new atheists – including some real gems (e.g. Terry Eagleton, David Bentley Hart), but also much that is merely boring and reactionary. I was stunned to discover that even Marilynne Robinson’s book, in spite of all the rave reviews (and in spite of my huge admiration for everything else she has written), was dull and uninspired. (Actually, it raises another question: why did Robinson feel the need to write this book, when her novel Gilead had already proved the existence of God?)

In contrast, I think Tomáš Halík has produced one of the best and most beautiful responses to the new atheism, in his recent book Patience with God (Doubleday 2009). His argument is that the real difference between faith and atheism is patience. Atheists are not wrong, only impatient. They want to resolve doubt instead of enduring it. Their insistence that the natural world doesn’t point to God (or to any necessary meaning) is correct. Their experience of God’s absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God’s absence. Faith is patience with God. Or as Adel Bestavros puts it (in the book’s epigraph): patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith.

In contrast to the overblown rhetoric of so many Christian apologists – with their drastic naivety about the ambivalence of the natural world and the intractable difficulties of believing – Halík’s account strikes me as a sensitive and realistic articulation of the difference faith makes. The best thing about his book – again, in contrast to the usual apologetics – is that it’s actually a Christian response to atheism. Surely anything a Christian says to an atheist ought to arise not from an invincible commitment to being right, but from an understanding of the kindness of God, an awareness that there is room in God’s family even for those who doubt – those for whom the word “God” cannot easily be deciphered from the dark hieroglyphics of the world.

Let me know if any good reviews appear in the next few days-weeks.
If the answer to the lack of God in the 1950’s, was Heschel, Marcel, Tillich, Maritain and the continued influence of Buber, James, and Jung. There seems to be an emerging canon of 2010’s response to the current absence of God. Pretty soon someone will create an anthology of recent authors 21st century authors like the 1962 books called “Religious Existentialism.”

20-Somethings and Religion— again

The gen-y millenials finally made it as a topic to an aging baby-boomer Jewish newspaper after being covered in the NYT the week before. The dividing lines for the 20somethings are not the baby-boomer issues but a new set of issues that are only appearing.

The new issues will be based on the sharp dividing line between those that marry young from those who will be single until their late 30’s. They will create two difference sets of life experience, different ways to frame their childhood, and different orthodoxies. If one is single until the late 30’s then the year in Israel has definitely worn off to be replaced by the rabbinical influences of their single life.  One spends a decade in the city with its dynamism of energy and new ideas. (But dont confuse urban life with academic town life.) One treats one’s community different if one is a member for 50 years or if one is only a member for 15 years to raise kids and one was mobile before and afterward.

Back in the 1960’s, there was an emphasis on outreach on the collegiate level becuase that was  seen as the formative moment, recently it has been on post- HS and on post-college. If one is floating in graduate school or urban jobs for many years then the need for outreach would need to shift to a later age. If life imitate the modeling shown them, then we are going to have a generation living the life shown in the TV show Friends.Which religious group will be able to reach them? Know that it wont be the same group that is reaching the early marriage and early settling down group. Which group will most likely be able to speak about emerging, forging, and contributing to the world?

Emerging Adults: What to Do With 20-Somethings?
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
A recent New York Times Magazine cover story examined the plight of the indecisive and paralyzed 20-somethings who are living in a newly coined life stage called “emerging adulthood.” It is a critical developmental period.

Robin Marantz Henig – NY Times Magazine
33 is the New 13
The Jewish world is organized as if only a narrow stream separates childhood and adulthood, but that stream has become a river. We need to build a bridge — an entirely new infrastructure — over the new river of emerging adulthood. Imagine if 33 became the new 13 and we invested heavily in Jewish young people all the way to actual adulthood. The bridge would be built around the fundamental understanding that the investment is largely uni-directional (as it is with children): we can’t expect emerging adults to make solid Jewish commitments during a developmental stage that is defined by non-commitment.
There is good news: most Jewish emerging adults go to college, so we know exactly where to find them to start the process after they leave home. And they are pluripotent: they are as open to Jewish experiences as they are to everything else.
Daniel Libenson is the executive director of the University of Chicago Hillel and a 2009 Avi Chai Fellow,

Personal Discovery and Development
While the reality on the ground is complex, in the end the broad message is simple: It’s about authentic, personal experiences; being with friends and experiencing (or creating) community together; and opportunities that deepen Jewish knowledge and stimulate Jewish growth.
But in its simplicity is a profound message: Identity formation is ultimately a result of personal discovery and development that, outside the family, happens in a circle of friends.
Morlie Levin, CEO Birthright Israel NEXT,

Great Conversation
To be 20-something is to search for one’s place in the world. Between career and education, friendship and romances, young people do not so much drift as struggle with profound questions of meaning: Who am I? What can I contribute to the world? What is a good life to live? The Jewish community can offer emerging adults not a set of answers, but a forum in which to forge a sense of meaning.
Our message to young Jews should be: Your concerns are the right ones. We have been wrestling with these questions for quite some time. Come and listen to some of our responses, and then join the conversation.
Dan Smokler, Senior Jewish Educator, NYU Hillel,

read the whole article here

Half Shabbos

I was asked by an Jewish educator- principal if I know what it means when current HS kids ask each other if they keep “half shabbos” or “full shabbos?”
Since I know the lay of the land, I said sure it is texting.
He said: Your right. The kids call someone who texts (and tweets and posts) on Shabbos as keeping half-shabbos and those who dont full shabbos.
This phenomena is more widespread than just the average modern orthodox. I have seen rabbinic kids here who wear black hats admit that they text on shabbos.
The educator said that the kids consider it part of daily verbal communication.

The discussion continued here Half-Shabbos Again and here Why Half-Shabbos?

Elijah Interfaith Institute Condemns Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira’s book

Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein runs an interfaith Institute in Jerusalem, which mainly holds international conferences of the world’s religious leaders, bringing together world leaders who generally do not get a chance to meet. He successfully brings important teachers of the dharma together to meet western religious leaders. He also holds a variety of academic meetings.

Alon Goshen-Gottstein’s institute issued a public statement last week against Jewish views that rob non-Jews of their dignity and right to life inherent in their Image of God. It was precipitated by the controversy around Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira’s book which suggested the killing of children. For a summary of the rabbis who supported Shapira – see here in Hebrew. Here is the petition to the Israeli Supreme court asking the court to censure Yitzhak Shapira. There were good op-eds in YNET that, as far as I know, did not get translated for the English edition. I was waiting for the translations. One is by Rav Yoel Bin-Nun on how this new trend in the Religious Zionist world is against the approach of Rav Kook, and Rav Kook did not think the laws of war apply today. The other was by Rav Benny Lau who castigates the rabbis supporting the work, how Rav Amital taught him that this racism is the wrong approach, and that one cannot claim academic freedom for a beit midrash.
For some of the historical background of these changes from an outsider perspective, see Firestone, Reuven, “Holy War in Modern Judaism? “Mitzvah War” and the Problem of the “Three Vows” Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Volume 74, Number 4, December 2006, pp. 954-982

Now, Alon Goshen-Gottstein has moved his educational institute into a public role and condemned the racism and hatred of gentiles.

Affirming the Image of God:
Statement of Scholars of the Jewish Theology Project of the Elijah Interfaith Institute

Recent weeks and months have brought to public attention the issue of Jewish attitudes to non-Jews, as these are found in some traditional sources and halakhah (Jewish religious law), particularly with reference to Rabbi Yitzchak Shapira’s book Torat Hamelekh. The great liberty with which the author dispenses with the life of non-Jews under various circumstances has become a scandal in the media, a subject for police investigation for incitement, a discussion item on antisemitic websites, and the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Israel. It has engendered heated discussion, most of which has focused on the right to teach Torah and to engage in discussion of halakhah, especially of a theoretical nature, unencumbered by external considerations and factors, such as police and state control. While these issues may be legitimate subjects for discussion, they conceal the main concerns raised by these teachings and their public reception. Many Rabbinical authorities have subsequently failed to condemn these teachings in theoretical and practical terms, leaving the impression that these are indeed appropriate contemporary Jewish attitudes to non-Jews.

For this reason, we, rabbis, teachers and scholars of Jewish studies of various disciplines, religious denominations and political perspectives, from different countries worldwide, have come together to express with a united voice our deep disdain for these extremist teachings, which are opposed to fundamental Jewish conceptions of the unity of humanity which all Jews affirm at this time of year on the High Holidays. We assert that the core issue they raise must be given priority in Jewish education and thought. Our view is that Jewish teaching involves more than merely citing texts, whether in or out of context. Teaching and the art of halakhic ruling always reflect a broader religious worldview, guided by core values. In our understanding, the creation of humanity in God’s image is the great principle, as our sages recognized.[1] We believe this mandates full respect for the infinite value, equality and uniqueness of every human life, for it is created in the image of God. Our Torah’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.[2] These and other great principles are the guidelines through which we interpret and teach our tradition.[3]

We are working together under the aegis of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, to bring to light teachings of Judaism that cohere to this worldview. Love of one’s own group should not be equated with the hatred of others. Israel’s calling is harmonious with the wellbeing of all humanity. We recognize that there are voices in our tradition that have lost sight of thise great principles, because of the unspeakable suffering that our people have undergone throughout history. It is, therefore, a contemporary educational and halakhic challenge to confront these extremist teachings, to contain them, and to dissent from them publicly, applying the methods of halakhah, classical interpretation and historical study.

We have been collaborating on a project of developing a contemporary Jewish approach to other religions, that would make our students and communities aware of the dangers inherent in such extremist views in our tradition, and that would inspire a broader view of Judaism, its ethical task and its vision for humanity.

Accordingly, we call upon rabbis and educators to take a clear stand against narrow views Jewish particularity, in favor of a broader vision of Judaism’s relations to the other. Our scholars stand ready to debate the views under discussion. Our own critique of Torat Hamelekh will shortly be published on this website. We will also be publishing educational resources that provide an alternative view of the non-Jew in Judaism, that remind us that “The Lord is good to all, and His compassion extends to all His creatures.”[4]
[1]See Sifra Qedoshim 4; Mishnah Avot 3:14.
[2]Proverbs 3:17.
[3] We are painfully aware that such problematic theoretical teachings can easily become transformed into practical guidelines for action, as witnessed by horrifying acts such as the Hebron massacre by Goldstein in 1994. We also recall some tragic lessons of our history, and the actions of Israel’s enemies in the past century, applying a perverted logic that we should not replicate within Jewish teaching. For example, the right to kill children lest they grow up to threaten us was cited by Otto Ohlendorf of the German Army Einsatzgruppe C at his trial, to justify his unit’s shooting of tens or hundreds of thousands of Jewish children among the more than million Jews murdered by the shooting squads in Eastern Europe in 1941-1942.
[4] Psalm 145:9.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Catholic Schools- Jewish Parallels

Over a Rosh Hashanah dinner, a local community leader and CFO was complaining about day school tuition. (His kids are finishing day school) He asked why the community did not see the need for transparency, accountability, and the creation of endowments back in the 1990’s. As a CFO, he knows that one is always weighing cost benefits of outsourcing, joint purchasing, and cut backs. And he mentioned that like most non-profits, they only survive with endowments. What was the community thinking?

Here is a talk that was published today by Archbishop Dolan of NYC. It was published with several responses. It may provide some of you with some thoughts or at least quotes for speeches. Dolan points out the decline and current challenges especially the rising cost of salaries and he suggests to go back to the diocesan responsibility and in the Jewish case it would be back to the kehilalh system. (Parenthetically, I must point out that in Europe the members of the vaad arba Artzot, kehilah leadrs, parnesim and heads of school board were businessmen not rabbis.) Dolan points out the need to move beyond petty turf wars.

Maurince Halliman points out that parochial schools may no longer be better that public schools. We are not recent immigrants anymore in poor school districts and the results just give us a Lake Wobegon “slightly above average.” There may be a need for proper assessment of strengths and weaknesses? Know what your product is. How does it compare to the Tenafly school system?

Robert Sullivan points out that commitment is based on a still unquantified continuity of the parents attitudes. And that more creative working with public schools or creating day schools with a greater emphasis on secular studies may help the schools. (Several of the local Islamic schools are going that route. Lets not forget that Hirsch’s school system only had 2 periods of Jewish studies a day and Maimonides School originally had equal time for Latin and Talmud, one period a day.) And Patrick J. McCloskey leaves us with the exhortation to remember that there is “An abundance of brilliant leadership and expertise is available among top professionals, academics, CEOs, CFOs and so on in dioceses across the country.”

The Catholic Schools We Need
Archbishop Timothy Dolan
SEPTEMBER 13, 2010
But what of today’s Catholic schools that exist in a world largely free of those sorts of 20th-century threats? Are we not facing our own crisis of closure for the Catholic school in America?
The answer is yes. Statistics from the National Catholic Educational Association tell a sobering tale about Catholic schools in the United States. From a student enrollment in the mid-1960s of more than 5.2 million in nearly 13,000 elementary and secondary Catholic schools across America, there are now only half as many, with just 7,000 schools and 2.1 million students enrolled.
The most crippling reason, however, may rest in an enormous shift in the thinking of many American Catholics, namely, that the responsibility for Catholic schools belongs only to the parents of the students who attend them, not to the entire church. Nowadays, Catholics often see a Catholic education as a consumer product, reserved to those who can afford it. The result is predictable: Catholics as a whole in the United States have for some time disowned their school system, excusing themselves as individuals, parishes or dioceses from any further involvement with a Catholic school simply because their own children are not enrolled there, or their parish does not have its own school.
The truth is that the entire parish, the whole diocese and the universal church benefit from Catholic schools in ways that keep communities strong. So all Catholics have a duty to support them. Reawakening a sense of common ownership of Catholic schools may be the biggest challenge the church faces in any revitalization effort ahead. Thus, we Catholics need to ask ourselves a risky question: Who needs Catholic schools, anyway?
To re-grow the Catholic school system, today’s efforts need to be rooted in the long-term financial security that comes from institutional commitment through endowments, foundations and stable funding sources and also from every parish supporting a Catholic school, even if it is not “their own.” Catholic education is a communal, ecclesial duty, not just for parents of schoolchildren or for parishes blessed to have their own school. Surely American Catholics have sufficient wealth and imagination to accomplish this.
We cannot succumb to the petty turf wars that pit Catholic schools against religious education programs and other parish ministries. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the church is all about both/and, not either/or. Strong Catholic schools strengthen all other programs of evangelization, service, catechesis and sanctification. The entire church suffers when Catholic schools disappear.

Maureen T. Hallinan
In a society characterized by an intense interest in student achievement, many Catholics feel secure in the longstanding reputation of Catholic schools as providing an outstanding education. This positive reputation has been referred to as the “Catholic school advantage.” It is based on empirical evidence that throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Catholic secondary school students attained higher standardized test scores in reading and mathematics than public high school students.

Yet these findings are dated and may no longer accurately describe the academic benefits of Catholic schools. Recently, the federal government has taken aggressive steps to improve public school achievement…In light of these changes, it is important to determine whether Catholic school students still outpace public school students in terms of achievement and other student outcomes.

An analysis of nationally representative, longitudinal surveys allows for an evaluation of contemporary schools. A few studies indicate that at least at the high school level, students in today’s Catholic high schools, on average, still outpace those in public high schools. More research is needed to determine whether this is a stable pattern and whether it extends to earlier grades. A recent analysis of seventh and eighth grade students in middle or elementary schools in a large urban environment failed to find a Catholic school achievement advantage in reading and mathematics for the average student; but it did show evidence of a benefit for disadvantaged and minority students in these grades. Another study reports that children who attended kindergarten and early elementary grades at Catholic schools received slightly higher, though barely statistically significant, test scores than those in public schools. These findings provide evidence that while Catholic schools may not provide a strong academic advantage for K-8 students, it does benefit certain subsets of students, namely, those in most need of academic support to succeed in school.

Beyond Religious Education- Robert Sullivan
‘We need not think that our church will exist only if we push children through religious schools.’

What if, moreover, these schools deemphasized religious education? In so doing, the school itself—educating young people to be thinking, interested citizens, conversant in the arts and history, in addition to perhaps theology and philosophy—would be an act of social justice, and, as well, a continuation of the American church’s historic role as host to immigrant communities, especially in cities, but also in suburbs where immigrant populations have increased greatly over the past decade. There is historical precedent: in Reformation Spain, Jesuit schools exempted Protestant students from religious studies. Rather than act as evangelizing mechanism, schools might operate more on the model of Catholic hospitals, or even Catholic colleges, which accept and encourage the presence of a variety of religious beliefs, not to mention non-believers.

Yes, I recognize that some studies have shown that Catholic schools can be an effective means of passing on the faith. But I remain skeptical of the idea that young people who attend Catholic schools are more likely to attend Mass later on. In my own experience, the most important indicator as to whether or not the young person will or will not attend Mass is unmeasurable and mysterious and has mostly to do with the parent. (If you could plot it would have the parent’s own relationship with his faith on one axis and his or her relationship with their children on the other.)

Patrick J. McCloskey
Undoubtedly there are adequate intellectual, managerial and financial resources in the Catholic community to meet current and future challenges. An abundance of brilliant leadership and expertise is available among top professionals, academics, CEOs, CFOs and so on in dioceses across the country.

Also crucial is effective leadership from the hierarchy, as Archbishop Dolan demonstrates. The fierce passion, which characterized prelates and religious orders from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, needs to be recovered where lacking throughout the Catholic community.

Full Speech Here
Full Comments Here

One Year Anniversary

This blog is one year old. The three month and six month markers were harder than this one. At this point, the practice of blogging is part of my routine. I started on September 10, 2009. Originally, the readership was limited to students and facebook friends. In mid December, the blog was discovered by several other blogs especially the posts comparing “Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools” “Post-Orthodoxy” “The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Transcendental Meditation.” On February 8th and then 25th the blizzard forced homebound East Coaster to look for something to do and they spent their time on blogs and my blog went viral. Popular springtime posts included the Art Green review, the Marryanne Robinson cycle, Rabbi Morgenstern and Meditation, and New writing of Rabbi Kook”

Some of the posts of the first three months that did not get the attention they deserve include:
The first Jewish reference to the Dalai Lama
Levinas’s Jewish Response to Nostra Aetate
Determine Your Rabbinical Age
Modern Orthodoxy- Modern meant Moral Self-transformation

I did a Tishrei cycle that was read but is timely to repost. The posts focused on the 9th to the 12th centuries of Unetaneh Tokef; Pesikta derav Kahana; Avodat Yom Hakippurim; and Geshem on shimini atzeret.

My post of this summer on “Rav Kook and Other Religions and Revelation” should have gotten readers but it received no hits.

I am willing to take suggestions for WordPress improvements-widgets to install or plugins. WordPress changed my theme without asking and erased all widgets this past summer and then reinstalled them a few days after a fashion. So there are some kinks from the summer.

My book “Judaism and Other Religions” came out in March. Despite the list price, the price on Amazon and Barnes & Noble fluctuates weekly between 57-73 dollars. Right now, both Amazon and B & N have it for 57. If you come to my house, then I can give it to you for 47.(No mail or shipping possible). It will jump back to 63, 68, or 73 in a week or two. I don’t have a date for the paperback but expect it around Dec 2011. I am told via the grapevine that the first academic review of my book is scheduled for November. The latest PR for the Book was in the Bergen County Jewish Standard last week.

Teaneck resident Alan Brill’s new book, “Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding” (Palgrave MacMillan), is a sort of post-tolerance manifesto for a post 9/11 world. The humanistic approach to tolerance in today’s Western world treats “the other” as secular without requiring any understanding of the other’s religion, argues Brill…
Jews involved in interfaith dialogue since the 1970s have mostly come from the 1960s “universal, we’re-all-one perspective” that emphasized openness over exclusivism, says Brill. He felt that today’s realities called for a look at how classical Jewish sources could bring an old/new dimension to the discussion.

Read Entire Review Here

My next book Judaism and World Religions: Encountering Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Traditions [Hardcover] is already listed on Barnes and Noble for next March 2011. I have several semi-completed manuscripts for 2-3 more books to be pursued as soon as I am dome with the one on World Religions. So, I will likely be blogging for at least a few more years while I edit, edit, edit.

Blogging takes time and I try not to let it interfere with other projects. However, I take copious notes on books and articles that I read for work so I actually write more posts that get posted because it takes time to edit them for the blog. Once again, I welcome guest posts that fit into this blog. I also wish to remind people that I do not post comments that are Google searches of quotes, which add nothing to the blog and only show off google skills. If you link one of my posts here to Twitter & Facebook, let me know so I know where the traffic is coming from.

I wish everyone a Gemar Tov and Gut Gebentched Yohr

Catholic Business Group helps schools set up Endowments – Yeshivas take note

I know that I have people who sit on the boards of Jewish day schools among my readership. You liked my post comparing Catholic schools to Day Schools. Well, here is a model to take note of. Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) is moving from creating scholarship funds to creating endowments for 7 Philadelphia Catholic Schools. They have put the businessmen and CEO’s in charge. Maybe you can give them a call and brainstorm together? From the list of donors, it seems they are going for corporate gifts from major national companies and from law firms.

A business group has pledged $4 million in matching grants to help seven urban Catholic schools create endowments during the 2010-11 academic year.
Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) on Thursday announced that it had signed partnership agreements with the schools as it launches its urban endowment initiative.
The pilot program advances an approach to helping financially strapped urban parish schools that BLOCS officials have been discussing for the last few years.
Five of the schools are in Philadelphia, and one each is in Chester and Lansdowne.
Joe Garecht, BLOCS executive director, said in the past that the organization’s primary focus was on raising scholarship funds to help low-income students attend Catholic schools. He said the organization decided to broaden its scope to include helping to save Catholic schools, because so many were closing.
“Schools continue to close in places where they are needed most,” he said.
In the last decade, the city has lost 30 percent of its Catholic elementary schools and enrollment has dropped by 41 percent.
Under the initiative, each of the seven schools will raise money and BLOCS grants will match each dollar. The money will be deposited in individual endowment accounts managed by BLOCS that will help cover schools’ operating costs.
The schools’ principals and pastors have agreed to work with BLOCS for the next two years, Garecht said.
The ultimate goal, he said, is for each school to have a $7 million endowment in three years.

You can make the calls Tuesday. Have your secretaries arrange meeting for after holiday season. Here is the board of directors. And here are the donors. Notice the broad base of the donors.

Kerem, David Stern, and Lawrence Kushner

When I turned to read this week’s Forward, I found a banner advertising the current issue of the journal Kerem. I used to receive Kerem in the 1990’s because my name was on some mailing list, but I was glad that it came because I always found it thoughtful and well edited. The journal sought to capture how people experience their Judaism. It was part dvar Torah, part first person narrative, part poetry, part midrash, and part liturgy. It stressed creativity and the renewal of Rabbinic life. I thought that it had ended in 2001 and had no idea that it put out four issues in the last decade. Well it is still around and promises greater web presence.

Here is the editors comments from this issue.

When we first founded Kerem in 1992, we aimed to address a striking paucity of journals reflecting upon the ways we think, live, and practice Jewishly. We envisioned Kerem then — as we do now — as a figurative vineyard (hence its name) whose fruits could be tasted and savored both immediately and over time. The varied genres assembled in its pages — divrei torah, rituals, mediations, midrash, fiction, poems — we hoped would both stimulate and serve as a resource. Over time, we added other features that enhanced our mission: art and photography,music.
Read the rest

They are offering some of their archives for free. They should really open it all up because no one buys back issues anymore, especially if one has access to an academic library.

Here is one of the free articles from the archives, an article by Professor David Stern from U of Pennsylvania explaining the history of vidui as the contingent combining of alternate texts of the vidui along with a narrative that such contingency precipitated his loss of faith. If the words of a prayer are only for the sake of an acrostic then every word does not count. This negates the preciousness of every word that he was taught in Yeshiva. Stern offers a nice parable he found in a kabbalistic prayerbook for the alphabetical form.

David Stern “ABC”S of Confession”
And now comes the other confession, the story of how I lost this perfect, innocent religious faith. It happened with a small, almost trivial, realization. As a born academic, I often tend to overlook the obvious. Sometime after I left the yeshiva, one Yom Kippur, as I was beating my breast
and repeating the Viddui, I realized that the Ashamnu was an alphabetic acrostic. Now, most people have probably always known this, but I hadn’t. It never even occurred to me. When I did see it, the recognition came as a crushing revelation, a terrible blow to my perfect religious faith.. It felt almost like a betrayal.

For all the time I had been reciting this prayer I had been assuming not only that every word counted, but that every word was there to cover a different kind of transgression, to make us confess and acknowledge a different species of shortcoming or sin. And now I realized that this was not so—that the reason you had bagadnu after ashamnu was not because devastation led to betrayal or that these were even different types of transgressions, but because you needed a word for sinning that began with a bet. And the same with gimmel for gazalnu, and so on.

To be sure, an alphabetical ditty is not one’s ordinary idea of a speech or an address to another person, but in that little mahzor of mine from my yeshiva days with a commentary on the Viddui there is a remarkable passage — quoted from a book called Sefer Etz haDaat Tov, The Book of the Tree of
Knowledge of the Good — that explains why the Viddui is in an alphabetic acrostic. The explanation is presented in the form of a parable about a king who had a terrible argument with his wife and banished her to a distant land. As the days of her exile in that land lengthened, the poor consort grew increasingly unhappy. What did she do? She returned to the king’s palace, took up the harp which the court musician had played on their wedding day, and she played it while weeping and lamenting, ever so plaintively, Thus and thus I rebelled against you, thus and thus I sinned against you. Finally, the king’s mercies were aroused, and he remembered the joy of his youthful love in the days of their marriage, and he took his consort back.

The meaning of this parable is clear: the king is God, the consort is Israel, the place of the consort’s exile is the place of our exile, and the harp is the letters of the Hebrew alphabet with which God composed the Torah that He gave to Israel on the day that He took Israel as His bride on Mt. Sinai.
Those letters now compose the Viddui that Israel makes to her estranged God. But as the parable makes clear, that Viddui is not a mere confession of sins. It is Israel’s love song to God, an artful, strategically conceived apology intended to win Him back, a siren’s song of apology whose real goal is to bring the redemption — as the Sefer Etz haDaat Tov concludes, bim’heirah b’yameinu, amen, kein yehi ratzon — speedily in our days, amen, so may it be His will.
Full version here

Another gem in the archives is this interview with Lawrence Kushner, one of the architects of the new Reform movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s. His first pulpit was as an associate to the outspoken Arnold Jacob Wolf in Chicago. The interview captures the gems from Arnold Wolf’s mouth about the rabbinate.

What are some of the things you learned from Arnold Wolf?
First, that you can survive in the rabbinate by telling the truth–not only in private, but also, and maybe especially, in public, no matter how embarrassing or frightening or funny your words may sound. Religious institutions are by nature prone to self-delusion, so a rabbi has a special responsibility to avoid sweet, platitudinous, feel-good talk and to speak with the candor of blunt, everyday language.

I also learned that a rabbi must not curry favor with the prominent or the wealthy–nor, on the other hand, with the modest or the weak. Therefore: no obsequiousness, no politicking, no baby kissing.

Another thing: the rabbi shouldn’t take himself or the congregation too seriously. “We are the wise men,” Wolf liked to say, “–of Chelm.” In an era when many rabbis wore black robes, had reserved parking spaces, confused their titles with their first names and in some cases actually had portraits of themselves hanging in the foyer, Arnold Wolf’s congregation called him “Arnold.” He worked without a secretary, and routinely confessed his mistakes from the pulpit.

And how did this go over with the congregation?

A lot of people were convinced the whole thing was an elaborate Machiavellian manipulation. They were wrong. Arnold Wolf demystified the rabbi-congregation relationship. He advised other rabbis to think of the congregation simply as the place where they worked, and not to hesitate to ask about such “mundane” considerations as the working conditions, the hours, the salary, the vacation. He would caution me against using the phrase “my congregation.” As he liked to say, “I only work here. Otherwise, I’d probably daven at a little Orthodox place downtown.”
He believed that rabbis didn’t own their congregations and shouldn’t try to run them. The congregation is owned by its members, the people who pay for it. It should never become an extension of the rabbi’s ego. Arnold believed that congregants should be free to make their own decisions, and that the rabbi shouldn’t even attend board meetings. He once went so far as to say that how a congregation gets and spends its money is none of the rabbi’s business–and I think he’s wrong about that. The rabbi’s business, he insisted–and continues to insist–is to teach Jews what he knows about how to grow in the service of God, and then get out of the way while they figure out for themselves how to make it all work.

Kushner’s next congregation was typical of how mixed in observance American congregations were in the 1980’s. Now everyone has been sorted out like metals, glass, and paper in a recycling bin, but thirty five years ago you still found congregations where some wanted Reform, some wanted Orthodox, ans some wanted Conservative.

What was in Sudbury when you arrived?
Chaos. A congregation of a hundred households had recently been through some major battles. Should the temple be kosher? Should it be Reform, Conservative, or unaffiliated? They had affiliated with the Reform movement a year before I arrived, but it was an uneasy truce. Of the 66 members who attended the meeting, 5 had voted for Orthodox, 11 for Reconstructionist, 19 for Conservative, 23 for Reform, and 8 for None of the Above.
The impasse was resolved when someone moved that the congregation should affiliate with the Reform movement, but would retain a kosher kitchen and observe the second day of Rosh Hashanah. They then hired a twenty-eight year-old rabbi whom they hoped would be suitable.

Kushner’s religious observance and experimentation with what works in observance created a broader spectrum of observance within Reform. He was also part of the generation that got rid of the organ high church and replaced it with the guitar, removed responsive readings, and brought in neo-Hasidism and niggunim.

Has your own religious observance changed much over the years you’ve been here?

In the years after Solel I was on a traditionally observant track, culminating in a couple of years of strict shomer Shabbos [Sabbath-observant] and strictly kosher. But I came out the other side. I remain very respectful of traditional observance, but I no longer think it’s the way for me, and I suspect it’s not going to be the way for many other Jews. Kashrut as it’s currently practiced is putting itself out of business.

Because it’s so extreme?

Yes, because no matter how kosher you are, there’s always someone who won’t eat in your kitchen. I’d like to see a reasonable standard of kashrut defined for liberal Jews. There is more than one way to be a serious and observant Jew

Was this something you learned at Solel?

No, Solel did responsive readings too. I thought they were dumb, and finally I said to myself, I’m a rabbi, I don’t have to do this. I feel the same way about the sequence of the wedding liturgy.

So what do you do about it?

I do a wedding in two acts. First we all gather around a big table, and the cantor or I will teach everyone a wedding niggun. And, as an inducement to get people to join in, we announce that we won’t bring in the bride and the groom until everyone is singing. We read and sign the ketubah, and then we have the bride and groom speak to one another publicly. It’s very powerful, and people usually cry. Only then do we erect the huppah at the other end of the room. It’s all intuitive. I don’t believe liturgy should require explanation.
Full Version Here